President Donald Trump on Friday stopped short of saying he will sign legislation supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement that has cast a shadow over his efforts to cinch a trade deal with Beijing.
Six weeks after it was announced, the “phase one” bargain between Washington and Beijing appears no closer to becoming a reality as both sides claim they are prepared to hold out for better terms.
In Beijing on Friday, President Xi Jinping said China wants a deal but is “not afraid” to “fight back” if necessary.
Trump’s riposte came several hours later in a freewheeling live dial-in to Fox News in which he told on-air hosts the deal was “potentially very close” but that Xi was under greater pressure to strike a bargain.
He also said that, when it comes to Hong Kong, he is balancing competing interests.
Beijing has denounced new US legislation adopted this week to support the restive semi-autonomous city’s democracy movement.
“We have to stand with Hong Kong but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Trump said. “We have to see them work it out.”
The world’s two biggest economies have been locked in a bruising trade conflict for more than a year, hitting each other with volleys of tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods.
Diana Choyleva, chief economist at Enodo Economics, said Xi’s comments do not mean that Beijing is about to go on the offensive but it shows that it is “not going to budge.”
Trump has fostered distrust among the Chinese, making Xi “very determined that there is no point to really give up much,” Choyleva told AFP at the New Economy Forum.